School Days

Sitting here, watching trash TV to zone out after a long day of work, I just caught an ad where some company was going to donate $50,000 to 20 different schools. The ad asked, "What would you do with $50,000 to your child's school? Art? Music? Science?" The thing that struck me is, that's actually not where the dollars are needed - schools just NEED that money. Teachers are paying out of their own pockets for basic supplies for their classes; things like tape, paper, pencils. Many schools are asking parents to buy supplies for the entire class.

Can I just ask: what the fuck is wrong with the educational system right now? I mean, I get that as property taxes go down, school funding goes down, so you get the poorest areas being the hardest hit. (I know this from growing up in one of the poorest school districts in NY.) But we were only asked to bring in boxes of tissues, not supply tape, markers and chalk for the class.

Borrowing heavily from "The West Wing", schools should be palaces, and teachers should be highly paid, valued members of the community - not vilified for "only" working 9 months of the year. (In my hometown - again, one of the poorest districts, where teachers were some of the lowest paid in NY - I listened to diatribes about how teachers were SO overpaid for their work.) Apparently, we can make schools palaces; just see this crazy-expensive building in CA. Note that the building cost $578MM and the district is now experiencing a $640MM shortfall. Math is not terribly high on their curriculum, obviously.

Education should be funded 100%. Every child deserves a world-class education. Anything less is disgraceful.

Geeks 1, Bigots 0

I know this has been covered, but the SDCC protest of the Bigots Who Shall Not Be Named warmed the cockles of my little fan-girl heart. Not only did the participants show up, they came out in style and had fun.

I kind of wish a group of cosplayers would follow them around the country and counterprotest them every time.

Feminist Hulk

Dear goodness, my sides hurt from laughing! Ms. interviews Feminist Hulk.

Ms.: Feminist theory often gets a bad rap for being too hard to follow and intimidating. Are you trying to translate theory for a general audience?


J: I’m pleasantly surprised at how little of Hulk has required translation. Folks just get it. While I wonder if Feminist Hulk might attract people already familiar with theory, the possibility that Hulk might be making ideas like gender performativity more accessible is awesome! I think it also says a lot about our attitudes toward theory when a big green dude smashing shit is the less intimidating option.


J: Sorry. Did I hurt your feelings?


Ms.: “Smash” is an excellent all-purpose word for what theory can do best when it’s working well. How powerful is your smash?


J: Does Hulk need to sit down and have a cookie?

feministhulk: GOOD IDEA. (MUNCH MUNCH).

Read the whole thing here.

Things that don't exist

I read a lot (an awful lot) of blogs every day, and many of them are compendiums of other blogs. There are cooking blogs, fashion blogs, fat blogs, feminist blogs, entertainment blogs, science blogs... anybody who puts out something that I find vaguely interesting, I add to my reader.

This morning, there was a link to an article called "Things that don't really exist", with a follow up. My curiosity was piqued. Most of it was written from an entrepreneurial point of view, but many of them had broader application. Some of my favorites are below.

5. Cinderella doesn’t exist. There’s no Prince Charming. There’s no Glass Slipper. Unjust oppression doesn’t always receive triumphant rewards. That’s not the way it works in real life. That’s why they call it a fairy tale. Are you willing to work harder than ever before and watch 90% of that work go unnoticed and under-appreciated?

7. Flawless execution doesn’t exist. Exquisite, yes; flawless, no. And without approaching failure this way, you’ll get swept away in the undertow of personal drama. Which accomplishes nothing but granting your emotions an all-day pass for disturbing your ability to execute. Will you fail like you mean it?

8. Good or bad days don't exist. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Everything is neutral until painted with the meaning you ascribe to it. Are you having a bad day or a bad attitude?

7. Stupid questions don’t exist. As the great philosopher Homer Simpson once said, “There are no stupid questions – only stupid people.” In this case, the stupid people who don’t ask questions. “That the problem with our educational system,” complained George Carlin, “kids shouldn’t be taught to read, they should be taught to question what they read.” What questions are you afraid to ask?

1. “Must see” doesn’t exist. That’s just fancy, coma-inducing marketing language for, “Please addict yourself to our crappy programming so our advertisers don’t come to their senses and stop wasting their money on a dead medium like television.” Here’s the naked truth: You’re not their little target anymore. You are in charge of how much attention you choose to give. How much money did you make last month by watching television?

Not all of them are gems, but enough were intriguing that I felt the urge to share.

Random Reviews

It's after midnight and I'm coming down from a mild panic attack, so thought I'd drop in and leave some reviews of things I've seen/read/used lately.


On our trip, I used the flight and airport time to my advantage and read a few books.

The first was Dune, which was eerily appropriate for an adventure that went into the desert. This is one of Ferret's favorite books ever, and thus I felt I should do my wifely duty and, y'know, read it. Reading it while in an Arabic speaking & Muslim country added a really interesting level to it, since I encountered the same words in the book in daily life there. For example, erg being desert dunes. It was a good story with some classic themes (and knowing that he based the Draven vs Vertise feud in his roleplaying game on the book made it even more exciting). I did think that Paul became a bit too automaton toward the end, but... I guess that was what he was supposed to do. We have the audiobook as well, and hearing the words pronounced for me helped a great deal. All the strange words - gom jabbar, lissan al gaib - thrown around in the first few chapters almost put up a barrier to entry for me, but from listening to the audiobook, it helped. The added benefit is that I feel I am more literate with my hubby; we had a conversation this morning about how many kilometers a thumper would sound, and trying to figure out the distance to Calgary in "thumpers".

The second book I read, and I bought it out of sheer amusement, was Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It's pretty much as advertised. Whole portions of the original, now with 25% more zombies! I wouldn't go past "it was amusing at times", but hey, it passed the 4 hour layover we had in Casablanca. They have Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters now, and I just don't see that one. Zombies can fit into any story. Seriously! No part of Sense & Sensibility that I remember happens at sea, or even near the sea (ok, technically, I guess London is near the sea, sort of, in that the Thames is an estuary). P&P&Zombies did not impress me enough to make me want to find out how he bridged that gap.

The last book was Ann Granger's A Mortal Curiosity. I'm a sucker for a Victorian murder mystery, especially with a female protagonist, and when I picked up the same book twice in 2 separate bookstores, figured I should give it a try. It was all right. I spotted the "twist" very early on, if I didn't quite know whodunnit. The odd thing was that the author seemed to almost shoe-horn in descriptions of people and places at the END of the book. "Hey, you've read 200 pages of this place and this person, I should tell you what they look like!" She also didn't quite build up the atmosphere, which - in my truly amateur opinion - is crucial to the Victorian genre. However, I found the hero and heroine engaging enough that I bought her other book, A Rare Interest in Corpses, the first book of the series, which I did not know when I bought the other. It is sitting next to me, and I'll probably keep reading it for a while before turning in tonight.

Movies & TV:

OMG, y'all, Glee is my new favorite TV show, like, ever. It makes me so very happy. While our school didn't have a glee club, per se, we had chorus and "ensemble" (girls ensemble, boys ensemble and mixed, which was maybe a total of 12 kids). Still brings me back. We didn't have the "football vs glee" problem though - our best singers were the co-captains of the football team. Reminds me of the time I was in a play and one of the captains had a love song with my character... and we did that scene during school assembly. Yikes. I hid in the library for a while after that.

Castle has thoroughly won me over as well. I resisted at first, but Nathan Fillion's smarmy charm finally wormed into my heart. I've seen photos from the Halloween ep, and it looks very funny.

Dexter continues to confound me. I guess keeping true to actual serial killer behavior patterns and methodology would limit the show, but it completely bugs the shit out of me. I prefer Criminal Minds because it has more authenticity. Watching all that A&E stuff about forensics and serial killers is a detriment to my entertainment enjoyment.

Strangely, Kung Fu Panda was better on a second viewing. I mean, we liked it the first time, but last week were bored and it was free on the cable streaming service, so watched it again. I don't know why it was more fun, but it was. Jack Black needs to do more kid stuff like this.

Meet the Spartans was so hideously bad, it wasn't even funny anymore. Ok, the penguin bit was a tiny bit funny, but not really. I blame Ferret for putting it on the Zip list. Coincidence that we canceled our service directly after? Maybe... (Zip = NetFlix for Canada)

I watched an old movie this morning, which just happened to be on, and it moved me quite a bit. And the Band Played On was about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and stirring and infuriating and... wow, we've come so far even in the 11 years since the movie was made.

Random otherness:

Boo for snow on Halloween! The weather has come between me and my favorite holiday. My poor pumpkin hasn't even been carved yet, and will probably end up sitting in slushy snow next weekend.

Yay for Aveda products. I won a raffle and got a huge basket of Aveda products from my local salon, and I'm quickly learning to like a lot of them.

Yay for argon oil. One of the stops in Morocco was at a factory which processed argon oil into cosmetic and cooking preparations. I bought a small bottle and love it. It's made from a nut, and is very pure. Wow, it makes my skin soft.

Yay for mint tea. Writing this and drinking peppermint tea has totally gotten me over the mild panic attack.

Ok, good night!

The best part of traveling...

... is coming home in the end.

The trip was great, but exhausting. We both got quite ill; however, Ferret got very sick at the end and is still feeling bad. The whole tour group got a tummy bug at one point or another. Let's just say that it is super-great to not have to brush your teeth using bottled water anymore.

Casablanca was kind of crap. Nothing like the movie at all - the French charm has been sucked right out of this city altogether. It's the industrial capital of Morocco, and boy-howdy you can tell. It's dirty and ugly and there really isn't much to see there. We saw the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world (after Mecca), which can seat up to 100k worshipers. It was only built in 1993, but it is gorgeous.

Rabat, by comparison, was beautiful. That is the capital of Morocco and contains the Royal Palace, where Mohammed VI spends much of his time behind the golden doors of his throne room. There's also the Chellah, a walled city that started in 40 BC by the Romans, and contains ruins up through the 1700s. The Kasbah Ouiadades was out-and-out phenomenal. It's a 300 year old medina (small walled city), where the same families have lived for all of those years. We got to even go into our guide's home - four tiny rooms, with just a large skylight for a window.

From there, we drove to Meknes, the agricultural capital of Morocco. The countryside looked a lot like other Mediterranean countries, so it's no wonder that the Romans liked it there. Meknes is known for its wine... however, you have to remember that this is a Muslim country, where alcohol is not encouraged. So, you can imagine the quality of wine from that sort of attitude. I don't remember too much from Meknes, because I was starting to get sick with the tummy bug at that point. There was a mausoleum of somebody important, and a whole bunch of gates ("bab"). And then we went into the souk. I think I'm fairly hearty about where food (especially meat) comes from. I was raised with the idea that food doesn't have to be perfectly sterile to be okay to eat. However, going down a hall where there were all these pastries and sweets and dates absolutely covered - and I mean that, covered - in bees, wasps and flies, then turning the corner to the butcher section... my already tender stomach was utterly turned.

Unfortunately, that meant that I missed out on some of Volubilis, a beautiful Roman ruin. We had a terrific local guide, too, and I normally adore listening to educated men talk about stuff. Ferret took control of the camera and I just trailed around, sitting down whenever we stopped.

Fes, though, made up for it. The old medina was built in 808, and the "new city" in the 15th C, so you can imagine the history there. Fes is this amazing labyrinth of tight alleyways where there is no car traffic, just pedestrians and donkeys carrying all manner of things. We were there during a special day of Ramadan, where children are encouraged to fast just a little bit (it's part of their culture, and our guide assured us that children are not forced to fast the whole day, just encouraged to take part for some of the day). We saw all these adorable little tykes in their special day costumes, and OH they were just so beautiful. We got a picture of one little girl, and I wish I had my camera ready earlier, because the whole family was worth a picture. As we were coming back from a tour, we saw a festival going on where a little boy was sitting on a pony and a little girl was being hoisted in a decorated white chair - our guide said that they were being congratulated for fasting the whole day.

A word or two about Ramadan: very interesting. Our tour leader was Muslim, and observed Ramadan as best he could. He did not eat or drink with us all day long, nor did our driver. We had dinner together after the sundown prayer. There were frustrations: not many places were open for food or drink during the day, the menus were often limited (three meals in a row, what I ordered, they didn't have), and we had to go to tourist destinations to eat during the day. But, our guide told us that it helps the people who observe Ramadan to understand real poverty - they understand what it is like to be really hungry, or to not be able to do what you want - so they are more likely to be charitable. Islam is actually a lot about being charitable, and actually DOING it, rather than talking about it (*cough* Christianity, I'm looking at YOU *cough*). Since we don't drink, it wasn't a deal that there was no alcohol or smoking available, but it was quite a deal for some of our other members; it made them think about the amount they imbibed. And the call-to-prayer five times a day actually made it so we thought about time differently. Ok, there's the call, time to stop for a little while so our guide can pray. I found it very eye-opening, and can say that I have a deeper appreciation for Islam now.

From Fes, we took a day trip to Sefrou, a poor city. This was a place that had been settled by Jewish people five hundred years ago, but after the 6-day War, the Jews all up and moved to Israel. It's very interesting, because it's now a Muslim and Berber city, but the Jewish monuments (synagogues and community buildings) still remain.

We started through the Atlas Mountains at that point, and ended up at a Kasbah for my birthday. And yes, I rocked it. We were in another small, Berber village, and it was beautiful. We wandered through their fields and watched children on donkeys getting water and men picking apples. A woman invited our whole group (9 people) into her 3 room house and offered mint tea, cookies and fresh walnuts. She looked about 45 or older, but someone asked her age, and she was the same age as I turned that day. Life was hard. Even without understanding each others' language, the ladies of our group managed to make some comments about the men and the Berber women understood. Some things are universal.

Then it was camel day! I have found my inherent talent: I can ride a camel easily. Poor Ferret nearly dislocated his hip getting on his camel, but survived as well. The Sahara was lovely and so quiet at night. There were several little cats that lived with the desert people nearby that played on our roof (I was rooting for a "death from above!", but they never did it). The stars were very bright, and different from North America.

We then wound our way up the Atlas Mountains, through the Dades Valley to stay at a Berber auberge made of mud and hay bricks. I found the place absolutely delightful, but it was definitely rustic. They didn't turn the power on until sunset, and there was a cow right outside our window who lowed quite forlornly when milked (at sunrise). The view of the mountains was breathtaking. This was the Valley of the Roses, where they use rose bushes as hedgerows between their crops, and then harvest the roses for perfume, soap, etc every spring. We took a 10k hike up into the hills there, to a 300 year old kasbah. When I say "10k hike up", I really mean that the first 5k was pretty much UP HILL. Not fun. But worth it! The family that owned the kasbah came out and fed us mint tea and "berber omelette", which was a tagine of eggs, tomatoes, onions and garlic served with bread cooked over hot stones (sometimes, the stones still embedded in the bread!). The lady of the house brought out a tin and a kettle and washed our hands. Later, she put henna on the hands of the women in the group, little round suns of brown on our palms. It was something really special.

Ramadan ended while we were there, and we could hear all the men of the village chanting and singing in the fields, and saw them parading in their pristine white djellabas.

Our next stop was lunch in Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Africa. Lots of movies were made near there, including The Mummy, Prince of Persia, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Kingdom of Heaven. We proceeded on to a famous (in Morocco) kasbah called Amridril, but it was overshadowed by our stop that night at the complex of Ait Ben Haddou. That was were they filmed Gladiator and Prince of Persia, and is a 500 year old collection of kasbahs. People still live there, too, with their donkeys, sheep and goats. It was really something to see.

(GEEK NOTE: In the game Prince of Persia, they often show the traditional Arabic architecture, which is round with onion-shaped domes. Persian architecture, as I learned on this trip, is actually SQUARE. The round ones are Ottoman, the square ones are Persian. Morocco is the only Islamic country that was not captured by the Ottomans, and maintains the Persian style architecture. Get it right, Ubisoft!!!)

Finally, we got to Marrakech. By then, my poor hubby was as sick as a dog, so he did not get to enjoy this city as much as I did. The thing to see there is Place Djemaa el Fna, a roaring plaza filled with buskers and snake charmers and monkey men and ... well, anything you can imagine. I was tempted to go to a hammam (bath house) because it was just so darned cheap (like, $35 for the "deluxe" package), but being naked where I can't communicate just didn't appeal to me. I had a lot of fun in the shops there, and managed to bargain a few things, including a lovely hand-worked garnet & silver necklace that I got for about $25. Ferret was feeling just alive enough on our last day to make a bit of a walk down to see the Saadian tombs, where some very important people were buried, and the architecture was amazing.

I think most people are friended on Facebook, but in case you missed it, the photos are here:
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We're going to Morocco! Just booked the tour and flights today. I'm so very, very excited. Camel riding through the Saharan Dunes! A night in a Bedouin camp! A night in a Berber village! Fes! Marrakesh! Ramadan! Exclamation points!!
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